/ Essays

The [Persona] + [Use Case] Formula

UPDATE: I created a worksheet so you can easily brainstorm 50 topics for your own business. It includes a PDF that walks you through the process and spreadsheet to help you pair personas and uses cases.

Enter your email below and I'll email you both docs. No spam, no BS.


One challenge in marketing software is that new customers start with a blank slate. The more a customer uses your tool, the more powerful it is. But every customer starts with a blank slate—no data, no contacts, no campaigns, etc. The product makes their life worse before it makes their life better.

Evernote is a good example. When you open a new account and download the app, the slate is entirely blank. Adding a few notes and PDFs isn't enough. The product only becomes useful when you decide add everything there. Once you hit critical mass, you finally understand why people rave about it.

There are two ways Evernote can go about content marketing given this problem. (And they are not mutually exclusive.)

  1. Write about all kinds of things that their target customer cares about.
  2. Write about every possible way customers are getting value from Evernote.

They've chosen the second strategy exclusively. You will never find generic content on the Evernote blog. It's all about the product. It appears to be a really effective strategy for them and it's one that I think a lot of early-stage SaaS companies could borrow from.

The trend in content marketing is write like a publication. Businesses have been so worried about being "too promotional" that they've overcompensated by never talking about their product. Is it better to write indirectly related content with a call to action or content about how to use the product? This is not a rhetorical question—there are situations where each makes sense.

There are really good reasons to write about your product:

  • People love new tools. This is why Product Hunt is so popular.
  • Content can serve multiple purposes (helping you find new customers, helping existing customers get more value).
  • Content is more than marketing, marketing is more than content.
  • You can opt out of the content runaround (pageviews, subscribers, conversions, etc.) because the goal is help people, not grow traffic. If traffic comes, it's a side effect of a good tool and useful content.

There is a lot competition in the information space. If Evernote writes about productivity or workflow as a concept, they have to compete for attention. Imagine 5 Reasons to Archive Your Tax Documents vs 5 Ways Evernote Makes It Easy to Archive Tax Documents. For the reader, understanding a concept is nowhere near as powerful as learning to use the tool.

This isn't for everyone. There are plenty of cases where purely educational/inspirational content works very well (think Help Scout, Moz, Intercom, Wistia). But if you're product is really a blank slate—Evernote, Periscope, Trello, Asana, etc—this is a powerful way to reach people.

If you're going to write about your product, here's a strategy you can borrow from Evernote to solve the Blank Slate Problem. They mix and match use cases with personas to create content for a variety of different people.

They start with a persona:

Persona Use Case Content
Student Research Evernote for Students: The Ultimate Research Tool
Student Taking notes Timeless Note-Taking Systems for Students
Student Creating a portfolio How to Create a Portfolio with Evernote

Then spin off the use cases for other personas:

Persona Use Case Content
Student Taking notes Timeless Note-Taking Systems for Students
Writer Taking notes How Note-taking Improves Reading—An Interview with Shane Parrish
Entrepreneur Taking notes Exploring the Notebooks of Thomas Edison

They can keep combining use cases and personas for more content ideas:

Persona Use Case Content
Entrepreneur Taking notes Exploring the Notebooks of Thomas Edison
Entrepreneur Business workflow Grow Your Small Business With Evernote
Entrepreneur Sales 5 Tips to Integrate Evernote Business with Salesforce

And keep mixing and match for a near-infinite number of variations:

Persona Use Case
Teacher Note taking
Teacher Research
Teacher Archival
Teacher Capture handwriting
Teacher Scanning documents
Teacher Collaboration
Teacher Workflow
Teacher Planning

They can do this for each persona and each use case:

Persona Use Case
Teacher Scanning documents
Student Scanning documents
Entrepreneur Scanning documents
Accountant Scanning documents
Parent Scanning documents
Chef Scanning documents
Artist Scanning documents
Blogger Scanning documents

There's more to it of course. They use different formats—How To's, videos, interviews, etc.—and dedicate an entire section of the blog just to business customers.

Here's a few examples of blogs that do this well:

Tweet me if you know of other good product-driven blogs.